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Racism and the Hilltop Crips

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on April 22, 2010 at 7:49 pm |
April 22, 2010 6:03 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The issue of race still shadows the arrests of 36 men now charged with criminal conspiracy as members of the Hilltop Crips. Tuesday’s demonstration on their behalf again put that issue front and center.

Despite suggestions that the small demonstration represents “the black community,” there’s no evidence that it reflects the views of a majority or even a large minority of Tacoma’s African Americans. But many blacks do have concerns about the racial dimensions of the case – some simply because they know the public is seeing the faces of so many black suspects associated with a single violent enterprise.

Tarring an entire race or class of people with the misconduct of individuals is the essence of bigotry. Blacks in America have endured humiliation by association for four hundred years. Their raw nerves are understandable. Under the white hoods of their Internet pseudonyms, vile racists have indeed been linking the Hilltop Crips to the black community at large.

But nobody has offered serious evidence that the sweep that targeted these suspects was racially motivated. The fact that the defendants are black reflects a hard-to-miss fact about street gangs: They tend to sort themselves out along racial and ethnic lines.

Some of today’s gangs look largely black, white, Latino, Asian, etc. Farther back in the country’s history, there were Irish, English, Chinese and Jewish gangs. Gangs tend to form in cities among marginalized ethnic groups; that’s sociology, not a fantasy of bigots.

As it happens, the Hilltop Crips are a black gang. As it happens, an informant inside the gang came forward with detailed accounts of the Crips’ activities. As it happens, a combined task force of federal, state and local investigators concluded that the Hilltop Crips were the most dangerous gang on Tacoma’s streets.

If the investigators were right, this operation was superb law enforcement, not a scheme to lock up as many innocent black men as they could lay their hands on. Dismantling the Hilltop Crips would make life safer for law-abiding Tacomans of all races.

It may sound terminally naïve to some, but we trust the motives behind this operation. Individual racists can be found on any large police force, but we’ve seen no evidence that racial malice drives command decisions in the agencies that targeted the Crips – the Tacoma or Lakewood police departments, the Washington State Patrol and Department of Corrections, the FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

And speaking of naivete, how about the flyers distributed by supporters of the defendants, which described them as kind, generous souls “trying to rebuild their characters in our community”? Given the long string of violent felonies these suspects are accused of, we think the question of their character is best answered in a court of law.

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